Job Role vs. Job Description: Which Is Better?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Reinventing Organizations" by Frédéric Laloux. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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In the debate regarding job role vs. job description, where do the most visionary companies come down? What difference does it make to an organization’s flexibility and overall performance?

In Reinventing Organizations, Frédéric Laloux identifies an emerging breed of company that operates from a new set of rules. One new rule they’ve adopted is exchanging job descriptions for job roles. This change serves both the employee and the organization.

Continue reading to understand Laloux’s findings about job roles.

Job Role vs. Job Description

Visionary organizations (what Laloux calls “Teal organizations”) have settled the debate regarding job role vs. job description. They do away with job descriptions that spell out each person’s duties. Instead, a member of a visionary organization has “roles” they can pick up, create, or discard. Laloux says that these roles emerge organically from the combination of a person’s talents and the company’s needs. 

(Shortform note: As opposed to job descriptions, job roles can be described as small, indivisible cells of decision-making. Letting employees hold roles that would not necessarily fit into one traditional job description allows an organization to make the best use of each individual’s particular set of skills, competencies, and proficiencies. For example, a retail worker with strong interpersonal and design skills might be able to split their time between serving customers and creating advertisements without having to choose between career paths.)

Changeable roles give an organization flexibility to quickly adapt to situations. Without restrictive job descriptions, team members who identify opportunities or problems are responsible for dealing with them, either by assuming a new role or bringing it up with their team. Some companies even have a marketplace for roles, letting workers trade for projects that more closely match their talents. (Shortform note: Emphasizing roles instead of titles places the focus on the value employees add to the company, rather than merely their responsibilities. Flexible roles also let employees make better use of new skills they develop, whereas strict job descriptions set limits on whether workers are able to apply new knowledge.)

This isn’t to suggest that everyone is equal in influence or importance. Rather, says Laloux, people accumulate respect and reputation over time. As they gain experience, they take on more demanding roles, but their authority is strictly context-specific. Promotion becomes a meaningless concept—people advance by growing more fully into their own potential

(Shortform note: The trouble with progressing based on reputation rather than traditional promotions is that reputation isn’t completely under your control. Hard work and integrity may not be enough without a dose of strategic self-promotion. In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene says that reputation is something you must cultivate and protect. However, many tips on how to improve your reputation boil down to “be a decent human being.”)

Laloux states that leadership roles are inhabited by coaches who, unlike managers, have no coercive power. By necessity, there’s always one person tasked with the role of taking the largest view of the company, usually dubbed the CEO. However, this position is vastly different than in modern corporations. (Shortform note: In The Coaching Habit, Michael Stanier differentiates between coaching and merely giving advice. Coaching actively empowers team members while helping them focus on the organization’s purpose. Especially in an organization defined by roles rather than job descriptions, coaching can help guide employees as to when to say “yes” or “no” to new roles.)

Job Role vs. Job Description: Which Is Better?

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Here's what you'll find in our full Reinventing Organizations summary:

  • The practices and values that are inherent in the next level of human organization
  • A look at the paradigm shifts in organizational structure over the past 10,000 years
  • How to implement visionary practices at your company

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

One thought on “Job Role vs. Job Description: Which Is Better?

  • December 27, 2022 at 11:59 am

    Thanks! Very interesting


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